Michael Bronski's A Queer History of the United States features many figures from U.S. History, those both well-known and lesser-known. Today we share two moments from America's queer history.
June 12, 1799: The Marquis de Lafayette writes a passionate letter to George Washington expressing his deep affection for the General. Lafayette writes, “There was never a friend… so tenderly beloved, as I love and respect you.” These “romantic friendships” were not uncommon in Washington’s day. Enlightenment ideals such as brotherhood and rational love paved the way for a “homosocial” sphere in society, one where intense same-sex friendships became an important outlet in (and complement to) marriage.
June 15, 1835: Poet and actor Adah Isaacs Menken is born. Menken became internationally infamous when she took the male lead in Mazeppa, a play based on the narrative poem by Lord Byron. At the show’s climax she appeared, practically nude, riding a live horse across the stage. Her work as an actress, coupled with the fact that Menken had both male and female lovers, lead public moralists to portray her as a socially dangerous and “unruly woman.”